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Theroux v. Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training

Superior Court of Rhode Island

March 14, 2016

RENE THEROUX, RST MECHANICAL, LLC
v.
RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & TRAINING

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Eric E. Renner, Esq.

For Defendant: Bernard P. Healy, Esq.

DECISION

PROCACCINI, J.

Rene Theroux (Mr. Theroux) and RST Mechanical, LLC (RST) (collectively Appellants) appeal a decision (Decision) from the Director of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT or Department) affirming a recommendation issued by DLT's Division of Professional Regulation, Mechanical Board (Mechanical Board). The Decision held that Appellants violated G.L. 1956 § 28-27-28 and § 28-27-50 by installing a heating unit without the required licenses and permits. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15. For the reasons set forth herein, the case is remanded for additional findings of fact.

I Facts and Travel

RST is a Rhode Island limited liability corporation that provides residential and commercial heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning services. In October 2012, August Louis (Mr. Louis) purchased a heating system from RST for $4000. RST delivered the system to Mr. Louis' home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.[1]

On August 12, 2004, Mr. Louis filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office. Mr. Louis alleged, inter alia, that the heating system was installed on October 15, 2002 and stopped working properly two days later. He claimed that electrical wires were taped with duct tape; the air and heat were wired opposite; and the unit continuously ran. On August 26, 2014, Appellants were issued a Notice of Violation/Request for the Imposition of Penalty(ies) (the Notice of Violation)[2] by Nicholas Ranone (Mr. Ranone), Chief Mechanical Investigator of the DLT, Division of Workforce Regulation & Safety, Professional Regulation Unit. The Notice of Violation indicated that Mr. Theroux's son was not licensed to install heating and air-conditioning units, as required by § 28-27-28, and that the installation was performed without a permit, as required by § 28-27-20. Penalties were assessed at a total of $3000, $1500 for each violation.

Appellants timely appealed the Notice of Violation and requested a hearing before the Mechanical Board. The matter was heard on December 3, 2014. The parties heavily disputed whether RST, Mr. Theroux, and his son actually installed the system, or whether they merely delivered the system to Mr. Louis' home. On December 10, 2014, the Mechanical Board issued a written recommendation (the Recommendation), finding that the alleged violations occurred and the fine assessed should be upheld.[3] The Recommendation was subsequently forwarded to the Director of DLT for consideration. On December 31, 2014, the Director issued a written Decision, cursorily finding that "a violation of RIGL 28-27-28 – 'Practices for which a license is required' – and RIGL 28-27-20 'State and municipal inspections and installation permits' did occur and the requested fine of $3, 000.00 is hereby upheld." DLT Decision, Dec. 10, 2014. The Decision was mailed to Appellants on January 8, 2015.

On February 5, 2015, Appellants appealed the DLT's Decision to this Court. First, Appellants argue that both the Decision and Recommendation lack sufficient findings of fact that are separate from the stated legal conclusions. They posit that it is irrelevant whether the Decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record because such evidence never made it into the ultimate Decision, as required by G.L. 1956 § 45-35-12. In addition, Appellants claim that the Recommendation submitted by the Mechanical Board is a mirror image of the Notice of Violation that was sent to Appellants prior to the hearing. In essence, Appellants contend that the Mechanical Board failed to articulate specific facts but merely copied the previously sent Notice of Violation. Second, Appellants claim that their due process rights have been violated because they never received a copy of the Recommendation, as required by § 28-27-24(a). As a result, they argue, they were unable to take an administrative appeal and be heard by the Director of the DLT.

In opposition, DLT claims that the Recommendation and Decision are supported by substantial evidence on the record. Specifically, the Department contends that the factual issue of whether Appellants installed the unit was considered by the Mechanical Board and Director, and both chose to believe Mr. Louis. DLT argues that this Court is unable to assess the credibility of a witness and substitute its judgment for that of the agency. DLT also claims that Appellants received a full hearing and opportunity to be heard.

II Standard of Review

The Administrative Procedures Act (the Act) provides this Court with appellate review jurisdiction over DLT orders. Sec. 42-35-15(g). The Act states:

"The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings, or it may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced ...

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